Alcoholic Neuropathy Part I Causes Symptoms

Of the many detrimental health effects of alcohol consumption, one of the most common and permanent effects is alcohol-induced neuropathy. Also known as peripheral neuropathy, this disorder arises due to excessive alcohol consumption causing nerve damage to the peripheral nerves in the human body. Peripheral nerves are responsible for transmitting signals between the body, spinal cord, and brain. Several vitamins, Thiamine, folate, niacin, and vitamins B6, B12, and E are all needed for peripheral nerves to function properly. Excessive alcohol consumption over a prolonged period depletes the body of vital nutrients and disrupts the way nerves acquire these nutrients.

Drinking too much can alter levels of these nutrients and affect the spread of alcoholic neuropathy. Fortunately, abstaining from alcohol can help restore your nutritional health. This may improve your symptoms and help prevent further nerve damage. Alcoholic neuropathy, also known as alcoholic polyneuropathy, is the direct result of overconsumption of alcohol over extended periods. Unfortunately, alcoholics don’t eat right or exercise, so their bodies slowly become deficient in several nutritional areas. There is a continual debate over whether it is the alcohol itself or malnutrition that accompanies alcoholism, which is the root cause of alcoholic neuropathy.


Heavy drinking over time can cause damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. This can lead to a range of disabling symptoms, such as pain, numbness, tingling, loss of balance and coordination, muscle weakness, and problems with digestion. Most patients with alcohol neuropathy initially present with symmetrical polyneuropathies in the lower distal extremities, however; heavier abuse can progress to distal upper extremity symptoms. The most common findings are sensory related and are varied to include pain, numbness, and paresthesias. Pain seems to be consistent through the literature to be one of the most common complaints and can be the first clinical indication of the disease.

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One of the key nutrients inhibited by alcohol is thiamine, vitamin-B1. Thiamine serves as an important coenzyme in carbohydrate metabolism and neuron development. The lack of thiamine in the nervous system affects the cellular structure and can cause cell membrane damage and irregular ectopic cells. Other vitamin deficiencies seen with alcohol abuse include, but are not limited to, B-vitamins, folic acid, and vitamin-E. Poor absorption and low intake of these vitamins have clinical features of dermatitis, neuropathy, and anorexia.

What You Can Do If You’re Affected By Alcoholic Neuropathy

Alcoholic neuropathy may also progress to painful and hypersensitive feelings in the hands, feet, and limbs. A light touch may hurt, or you may experience a constant feeling of pins and needles. This kind of pain is difficult to bear, but for those who have been drinking in excess, it can be a chronic condition. Our muscles need to receive messages from nerves to function properly, so when alcoholic neuropathy damages these nerves the muscles may not respond properly to stimulation.

Heavy alcohol use can also impact how the kidneys, stomach, and liver function. This leads to a build-up of toxins in the body because the system that flushes these toxins is no longer working correctly. While not specifically approved for the treatment of alcoholic neuropathy, antidepressants are often prescribed to help control the pain. Anti-seizure medications are sometimes prescribed as a way to manage pain. When speaking with a doctor, it is important to be honest about alcohol consumption. There are several possible causes of neuropathy, and knowing about a person’s alcohol intake can help the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.

Is There Treatment for Alcoholic Neuropathy?

Consider joining a support group — there are a number online if your condition prevents you from leaving the house. In severe cases of alcohol addiction, when a liver transplant is necessary, there have been some instances of reduced symptoms, post-op, but not even a transplant can abate the symptoms of late-stage alcoholic neuropathy. Once you and your doctor know what you’re up against, treatment can begin in earnest.

alcohol neuropathy

They may not feel strong sensations in these areas, either, due to the damage to the nerves. They may notice a weakness in their hands or that they have lost some of their coordination. Their balance can be affected due to the nerve damage in the legs and feet. Severe alcoholic neuropathy may cause motor weakness due to nerve damage. Our muscles need to receive a message from nearby nerves in order to function. When this message is interrupted due to damaged nerves, the muscles cannot function as they normally would.

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This excessive drinking damages the nerves and can lead to a number of symptoms. It usually takes years to reach this point, although heavy binge drinking can accelerate the onset of alcoholic neuropathy. There are a number of different illnesses and conditions that can cause neuropathy, including consuming large amounts of alcohol. Alcoholic neuropathy is very common among those who drink heavily, but few people realize that the pain and tingling they feel in their extremities is another symptom of their drinking. Fortunately, by reducing their alcohol intake and seeking out peripheral neuropathy treatment, these symptoms can often be reversed.

alcohol neuropathy

It is important to supplement the diet with vitamins, including thiamine and folic acid. Sadly, there are no medical treatments for counteracting muscle waste, the loss of sensation, or issues with balance; however, many see improvements on all three fronts by getting sober. Distribution of the severity of polyneuropathy according to the different types of alcohol consumed. For those who do stay sober, while recovery may not be 100% in most cases, the difference can be between constant pain and agony up to slightly bothersome and having bad days. Peripheral nerves are slow to heal for the same reason they are the first to fail.

Autonomic Neuropathy

In that case, there may be some improvement in the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy after the liver transplant, but often, the neuropathy is so advanced that there may be little, if any, improvement, even after a transplant. It is likely to get worse if the person continues to use alcohol or if nutritional problems are not corrected. Alcoholic neuropathy is usually not life-threatening, but it can severely affect quality of life. It probably includes each an immediate poisoning of the nerve by the alcohol and therefore the impact of poor nutrition related to alcoholism. Up to half semi-permanent significant alcohol, users develop this condition.In severe cases, nerves that regulate internal body functions (autonomic nerves) could also be concerned.

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Impotence, diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms are treated when necessary. These symptoms often respond poorly to treatment in people with alcoholic neuropathy. In some instances, a doctor may wish to carry out a nerve biopsy, which involves the harvesting of a small fraction of a nerve (usually from the ankle area) for closer examination using high-powered microscopes. This may well reveal damage-patterns consistent with alcoholic neuropathy across the nerves of the affected area. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCV) will then be necessary to assess, not the cause of the prospective neuropathy, but the severity of the nerve damage.

Alcoholic Neuropathy

Talk to your healthcare provider about the best treatment plan to start on your road to recovery. Alcoholic neuropathy damages the nerves due to prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption. This damage prevents the nerves from communicating information from one body area to another.

  • Statistical calculation of pooled proportions was conducted in R language, using the default settings of the “meta” package and the “metaprop” function with a random effects model [8].
  • Physical therapy is usually called for in cases of alcohol neuropathy due to the significant damage done to the nerves.
  • One patient with grade I neuropathy responded with the correction of low pantothenic acid.
  • People suffering from alcoholic neuropathy may feel burning and tingling sensations in their feet, which may persist or may last from a few months to a few years.
  • In individuals with alcoholic pathology, the peripheral nerves are broken by an excessive amount of alcohol use.

The nerve damage of alcoholic neuropathy may be permanent if the damage has been taking place for a long period of time or if it persists. Alcoholic neuropathy is also caused by nutritional deficiency, as well as toxins that build up in the body. Alcohol decreases the absorption of nutrients, such as protein and vitamin B12, causing significant deficits that affect many areas of the body, including the nerves. Constant pain in the hands or feet is one of the most bothersome aspects of alcoholic neuropathy. The pain can feel like burning, throbbing, or sharp pins and needles. As the condition progresses, the pain may vary in intensity, sometimes diminishing for months at a time before worsening again.